Transforming Mental and Social Welfare Programs Around the World
The future of online therapy is full of incredible possibilities that can potentially transform numerous aspects of the world’s social structure. Imagine if we could utilize it to reform the organization of rehabilitation programs in juvenile centers from the ground up; change how counseling services are administered to the growing number of refugees around the world; or provide support to people suffering from impulse control or manic depression. While we are only getting to understand the positive impact of online therapy on an individual level, as it becomes more mainstream and less stigmatized, it can ultimately evolve into a game-changing tool capable of redrawing how health and social welfare programs are run on a global scale.
One of the most shocking facts about mental illness is that 14 percent of the world’s disease stems from mental, neurological, and substance abuse disorders. Most of those afflicted (a hefty 75 percent in many low-income countries) have no actual access to mental health care providers, which is absolutely devastating considering that resources such as online therapy are available and thriving. While it’s true that their lack of access is the result of diverse factors – such as a deficit of available technology, lack of trained professionals, and of course the financial aspect of attaining such care – having government agencies and NGO organizations work to make online therapy accessible to the people that need them may be of immeasurable benefit.
Thomas Insel, Director of The National Institute of Mental Health (NIMH), cited a study published earlier this year, where researchers posed the question: How many annual deaths are caused by or are associated with mental illness across the globe? Turns out, it totals up to a staggering 8 million. Think about that – it’s the entire population of New York City, one of the top-ten most populated cites in the world! Of course it would be silly to assume that simply granting those afflicted access to a mobile phone and the World Wide Web can treat every mental illness, but online therapy can be a serious asset in the global effort to provide access to such therapeutic services.
While a tremendous amount of effort has been made towards normalizing and de-stigmatizing mental illness through awareness campaigns and public education, shaming of individuals seeking treatment continues to be a huge problem in America as well as abroad. Much of this has to do with the fact that the general public lacks empathy as well as knowledge about how the brain works, not realizing that mental illness is something that is beyond the control of the afflicted. Furthermore, people don’t grasp that online therapy can be an instrumental asset in promoting mental health, which is different from mental illness in the sense that it facilitates mental and emotional wellbeing, rather than simply treating disorders.
Daniel C. Dennett – philosopher, author, and codirector of the Center for Cognitive Studies at Tufts University – states that although we would like to think of our brains as well-organized hierarchical systems that work to ensure everything is in order, this is not true. According to Dennett, “the normal well-tempered mind, in effect, the well-organized mind, is an achievement.” In other words, it’s not our base or default state. Because our brains are constantly reorganizing in response to diverse stimuli coming from our environments, regardless of whether they are traumatic or novel in nature, it’s always possible for things to go wrong, causing emotional and mental instability. Online therapy is one of many helpful tools we can use to get minds back to a well-organized state.
Although it’s very difficult to gauge exactly how many people are currently utilizing online therapy services worldwide, it’s clear that there is in fact a demand for them. Last year, NPR’s Maanvi Singh spoke to several prominent mental health care providers about the growing demand for online therapy, and cited research that supports the idea of it being a highly effective mode of treatment. Considering that one out of four people will eventually experience some sort form of mental illness, these statistics are a sobering reminder of how much work still needs to be put towards making mental health care accessible, with online therapy being the most realistic way of delivering it.
Its innate potential to transform the social welfare structure of our world is unbelievably vast, but will also be incredibly difficult to realize and implement. The first obstacle, of course, is public education about the overall benefits of online therapy, which in-turn will promote its de-stigmatization and helping it enter into the sphere of the mainstream. Eventually, health, rehabilitation, and wellness organizations will start to find ways of utilizing online therapy to advance their services and causes as one of their core or supplementary measures, and as soon as that starts to happen, governments and international health committees will have to jump onboard.